Weeding Dandelions

Living down wind from a park, my yard is especially prone to dandelions. By late spring our house is completely surrounded by a sea of yellow blooms. Actually if that's how dandelions stayed, I wouldn't consider it too much of a bother. I don't mind adding a little color to my lawn especially given the fact that I'm not known for my green thumb.

dandelionsBut soon enough all the wishes have blown away and what's left are just stark ugly, bare stems. These I don't like. So every year, when my lawn becomes highlighted by those determined little intruders, I get to work. I dig out my trusted weed puller and head out for a battle - “en garde."

One day, as I sat tolling away, my next-door neighbor called over from his side of the fence, "Working hard?"

I caught his irony. There I sat in a small clearing which had taken me a half an hour to conquer while thousands of dandelion flowers defiantly commandeered almost every corner of my yard. Oddly enough, I was not deterred. The trick is... I shot back with a smile, "don't - look - up!"

One great thing about weeding is that it's mindless. This left me with time to ponder my brilliant retort and the more I contemplated it, the more I decided that it really was brilliant. I had had an epiphany.

Besides a weedy lawn, there is something else noteworthy about me. I have a son who is severely disabled. Life with Alex is a daily challenge. He is incontinent, confined to a wheelchair, cannot feed himself, and has no real language to speak of. He is now very heavy and lifting him is difficult. His body doesn't function smoothly. He gets cold easily, hot easily, wired easily, tired easily.

As his mother, getting overwhelmed by it all can come easily too. And yet, often, it doesn't.

I have heard the statement, 'I don't know how you do it' more times than I can count. That day in my yard I figured out why - I don't look up.

Focusing on this one dandelion; this one restless night, this one change, this one uncomfortable comment, or getting his wheelchair through this one - too small - doorway; is critical for keeping the weeds at bay.

This survival strategy has paid off in an unexpected way. It gave me access to some highly classified information. It turns out that the grass really is greener when it is surrounded by dandelions. This greener grass includes a successful meeting with professionals, a trip to the movies without incident, an uninterrupted night's sleep, meaningful conversations with friends, an occasionally clean kitchen, a good practical joke, an intimate moment with my husband, a well written article, a spontaneous episode of singing and dancing with all of my children. Very green grass.

Of course there are times when the weeds are winning. Once I was so frustrated at the sheer mass of yellow that, in a frenzied moment, I just started ripping off tops. At some level I knew it was a futile exercise but at that moment I felt compelled to go down fighting. For a few days - at least - the weeds were slightly less conspicuous.

Sometimes I give up and allow them to take back my yard. It is their turn for a victory. And yet I also know that for this war - nothing is permanent. Today I will conquer some territory, perhaps another day I will lose some ground. Then the winds will blow in my favor again.

My strength for fighting comes from a few solid patches of green that have never allowed those invasive roots to take hold - my son's sweet smile, his gentle touch, his innocent laughter. When I get really discouraged I go there.

Over the years neighbors and friends (therapists and doctors) have offered various solutions to help me with my progress - pulling techniques, weed-killing chemicals, a newfangled tool. There have been some who have suggested that I give up, while an endearing few have offered recipes for dandelion salad and wine. Some advice, thoughtfully given has been appreciated. Yet in the end, I have come to understand that this is my lawn, my energy, my fight.

I'll never conquer this yard. Just as we will never conquer my son's challenges. Yet I know that I am in it for the long haul. I have even found a kind of therapy in these weeding escapades.

For my efforts I usually manage to create enough space to set out a blanket in my soft green grass and enjoy the season. By high summer, I am reaping rewards. Blanket spread, lying beside my special, sweet son, feeling the breeze, and watching my other, equally charming, boys laughing and playing in our yard. Then I notice them picking up, now transformed, dandelion stems - the kind with the puffs on them. And as I watch my little traitors blowing their wishes across the lawn I think, Now that is worth looking up for!


Annie Zirkel is a Relationship Consultant based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can contact her at annie@practicehow.com